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Eating What You Like

What You Should Know About Carbohydrates (Carbs)

The foods you eat provide energy. Carbohydrate foods are your body's main source of energy. Your body turns carbohydrates into glucose (sugar) which it uses for fuel. Cereal, bread, pasta, rice, beans, vegetables, fruits and juices, milk and yogurt, sweets and desserts all contain carbohydrate. It makes no difference where the carbohydrate comes from, as long as you eat about the same amount at each meal each day.

Countaing carbohydrate (carbs) can be an important tool in planning what you will eat. Some people find that counting carbs gives them greater freedom to eat many different foods. Others find it confusing. It is a way to keep track of how many servings of carbohydrate foods that you eat. You are the leader of the team to take care of your diabetes, so you can decide when or if you want to start counting carbs. If you want to use this approach, working with a dietitian will help.

What To Do

Middle aged couple at the table.Knowing the amount of carbohydrate in different foods can help you manage your blood sugar. One of the most important ways to find out how much carbohydrate is in a food is to read the Nutrition Facts panel on food labels. It will tell you how many grams of carbohydrate are in one serving of that food.

For many people, having 4-5 carb choices per meal is just about right. Some people may need to have 1 or 2 carb servings for a snack.

Protein foods such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs, peanut butter, nuts and fats have little or no impact on blood sugar. Eating a variety of lean protein foods and a moderate amount of good fat will round out the meals you eat. Good fats include olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, soft tub margarines and nuts.

Sorting Out the Numbers

1 carb serving/choice = 15 grams (g) of carbohydrate

Some examples of food with 15 grams of carbohydrate:

  • 1 slice of bread or 1/2 English muffin
  • 6 saltine type crackers
  • 1 small piece of fruit
  • 1/2 cup peas, corn, winter squash or potato
  • 1/2 cup cooked rice or pasta
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 small brownie (2 x 2 inch square)

Keep in mind that it is very easy to count too much food as one serving. Your dietitian knows ways to help you figure out portion size.

A Piece of Cake!

The number of carbohydrate servings/choices per day should be balanced between meals and snacks in a way that helps keep your blood sugar in good control. You usually eat foods from the food groups of the Food Guide Pyramid, but what if today is your birthday and you want a piece of what? Do you say, "Today I'm just not going to follow my diet and if my blood sugars go up, it's no big deal?" That's not a great idea. If you count carbs you can make substitutions. You know that the small potato you usually eat has 15 grams of carb (1 carb serving). A 2-inch square of frosted cake has 30 grams of carb (2 carb servings). Give up the potato and one slice of bread for the day and eat the cake.


In addition to your dietition:


Carbohydrate Counting: Getting Started published by the American Diabetes Association. To order you can call 1-800-232-6733, (then press 1) or you can order online: They have many other books as well.


American Diabetes Association

American Dietetic Association

American Heart Association (Click on 'Nutrition')
1-800-AHA-USA1 (1-800-141-8711


"Sometimes people get the idea that there is almost nothing good someone with diabetes can eat. I really limited my diet for over a year. I never had dessert. Then one day a person with diabetes told me he'd had an ice cream bar for lunch. 'How could you do that,' I exclaimed. 'It's easy,' he said. 'It's all about counting carbohydrates. Just count the 30 carbohydrates in your daily total.'

I went out that day and got one, made sure I had enough insulin to cover, and what a joy to savor! I don't do that every day. But it's so liberating to realize that no food is off limits. I just need to count my total carbohydrates and pay attention to my blood sugar."



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This guide is not a substitute for the judgment of trained professionals.
If you are a person with diabetes you should seek care from a qualified practitioner.